Cedar Rapids' African American Achievement Program students visit campus, discuss book

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Teacher Education students from the College of Education discuss book with AAAP students.
College of Education Teacher Education students Melanie Hester (left) with Jasmine Simpson (center) discuss race in America with Cedar Rapids African American middle schoolers. Photo courtesy of Mei-Ling Shaw Williams.

Nearly 200 middle school students traveled to the University of Iowa campus to learn about the college experience and contribute to a book discussion.

The students were sixth, seventh, and eighth graders who participate in the African American Achievement Program (AAAP) of the Cedar Rapids middle school system.

The event, in its eighth year, is organized and hosted by the University of Iowa College of Education Diversity Committee, the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, the UI Center for Diversity and Enrichment in the UI Chief Diversity Office, and the UI Office of Admissions.

“We love sharing our campus with these potential Hawkeyes,” says event co-coordinator Clar Baldus, a visiting assistant professor of art education in the UI College of Education. “The book discussion and interaction with UI staff and students is a great way to build a culture of college preparation for these middle school students, no matter where they decide to go after high school.”

In preparation for the event, all of the students and the involved UI faculty read The Butler: A Witness to History by Will Haygood.

The books, purchased by the UI College of Education, were given to the students to keep. Education faculty led small group discussions of the book.

“The students’ insights about the role of race in The Butler and in their lives were thoughtful and illuminating,” says professor Christopher Morphew, the UI College of Education’s executive associate dean for research and innovation. “I’ve led a small group discussion of AAAP students before and always come away impressed with their energy, enthusiasm, and aspirations.”

The other part of the day was spent listening to a panel that included currently enrolled African American students, staff, and faculty of the University of Iowa. Questions the middle school students submitted to the panel ranged from “Are the teachers fun?” to “What ACT score do I need to be accepted at Iowa?”

The themes of the AAAP are setting goals, discussing history, and building greater cultural awareness. Students may join the AAAP if they have an interest in African-American culture, have a 2.5 GPA, and have a good attendance record.

“We want our students to see themselves here at college,” says Kimberly Abram-Bryant, a reading teacher from Taft Middle School in Cedar Rapids. “We want to help them understand that they can succeed in a college environment.”